A medical doctor and serving lawmaker, representing Ogun Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Dr. Lanre Tejuoso, and his wife of 31 years, Moji, talk about politics, marriage and other related matters
What can you recall of your childhood?
I was born in the United Kingdom but I was brought back to Nigeria before I was two. I can’t recall much of my early days in the United Kingdom but I know that I returned to Nigeria to start school at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital Staff School because my father was working at LUTH at that time. For my post-elementary education, I attended Igbobi College, Yaba. For my tertiary education, I went to College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idi Araba, where I studied Medicine. I also did my house job (housemanship) there.
Were there any incidents that molded your life?
I was involved in a major accident while travelling from Lagos to Abeokuta with my grandmother. The accident left a scar on my head and it is something I would always remember.
How did the accident shape your perception of life?
I was brought up in a Christian home and we were taught to believe that whatever happens to a man is what God wants for a particular purpose. I believe that for God to have saved my life, it meant that He had a purpose for me and the incident made me to move closer to the Almighty. It also propelled me to identify my purpose and fulfill my destiny.
Your grandmother was a prominent personality. Being her first grandson, you must have shared an exceptional relationship with her. How did she impact your life?
I lived with her all through my young life until I got married. She was a very godly and religious woman. She was also a trader par excellence. She was the leader of all the women in Abeokuta as the Iyalode of Egbaland. She was also the Iyalode of Egba Christians. She was a very good trader and I learnt a lot of things from her in that aspect. She capitalised on whatever opportunities came to her business-wise. She also knew how to make the best of any investment she was involved in. Due to my closeness to her, I also contributed to many of the investments in terms of making myself available to her and also giving her some advice. I learnt so much from her.
How did you receive the news of her unfortunate passing, particularly the manner in which she passed on?
She was 80 years; so, I knew that she was getting closer to her maker. However, it was the manner of her passing that I did not like. Nobody would like anybody getting killed, irrespective of whatever age they are. Well, the Bible says that we should thank God in all situations and that is what we do.
Why didn’t you live with your parents?
She was my parent. My father too was living with her; we lived in a massive estate in Lagos. I lived in her quarters but I saw my father every day.
Having being born abroad, how is it that you never went back there to study?
That is because I never wanted to leave my grandmother. Even in Nigeria, all my siblings went to boarding houses but I did not go because I wanted to be close to my grandmother.
What were your childhood ambitions?
I wanted to become a trader like my grandmother. But when I finished my secondary school education, I had a very good result and I could have studied any course I wanted. I decided to become a doctor because my father was a doctor too.
How did your career take off after school?
For my national youth service, I was posted to the Nigeria Port Authority clinic. I did my house job at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba. I also worked with my father for a year at his hospital. Even then, the trading instinct in me made me go into business; so, I didn’t practise for more than two years. I continued working with my grandmother at the factory, Teju Foam. I also did a lot of trading with her such as exportation of palm kernel.
What was your father’s reaction when you decided to leave medicine for trading?
As of that time, he had also left the practice. I was only doing what he did.
Apart from your father and grandmother, who were the other people you looked up to while growing up?
My mum also played a major role in my life. She was a stickler for decorum and she always stood for whatever she believed in.
Many people believe that since you were born into a comfortable home, you have not experienced tough times. What are some of the challenges you have experienced?
Challenges are relative. What some people might consider to be challenges may not be so with some other people. At a time, I wanted to stand on my own and I decided to go out. I tried to look for business to do but whenever I approached people, they always asked what I was looking for again because I’m from a wealthy family. They immediately categorise you as someone that does not need any help. I couldn’t really live a normal life of going to look for jobs and contracts. Whenever I got to such places, they told me to leave the rest for other people. Meanwhile, I was trying to be independent of my parents. That was a very big challenge for me because I couldn’t be myself.
How did you break out of your father’s shadow?
I had to carve my niche. I went out of the country for some time and I developed myself business-wise. I also went into politics and nobody in the family had done that before.
What fostered your interest in politics?
After going round the world and seeing things work very well, I realised it was a big shame coming back to our country and things are not working. Having been opportune to see how things work, I believe it is people like us that should come and show people how it can be done. To effect certain changes in the society, you have to be part of the decision-makers and that is why I ventured into politics. There is no use complaining without doing anything about what you’re complaining about. It’s like people watching a football match. All the spectators can have different criticisms but put them on the pitch, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything.
When you made the move to go into politics, were there discouragements from any quarters?
My father didn’t want me to go into politics because he believes that there are so many responsibilities to handle in the family. Many others did not approve of my decision as well. They told me it was a dirty game but I always replied them that someone had to go and clean it. I may not be able to complete the change but I should be able to start it. People that have the potential to be leaders are afraid to come out because they are comfortable in their zones. I thank God that I am comfortable; I don’t need to do politics to survive. After I went into politics, my friends got interested. It is always good for people who have other jobs and activities to get involved in politics; not people that are using politics as their main source of income. We need more people who are exposed, mean well and have names to protect to get involved in politics. If you bring someone who has lived in the village all his life to rule in Abuja, he would bring a village mentality to leadership. It is people that are exposed that should come and change our country.
Early in your political sojourn, there was an assassination attempt on your life. Wasn’t that enough discouragement for you to quit politics?
Even people that don’t do politics die. If you are spiritually aware, you would know that whatever happens to a man is for a purpose. Whenever you have attacks on the way, you should be happy because it means that God has a plan for you somewhere but the devil wants to cut it short. One has to always stay focused and move on. If you fall down, get up and keep moving. If I had quit at that time, would I have become a senator today. The attack was in 2006 and I became a senator in 2015. The attack was just a plot of the devil but God saw me through.
You were once a commissioner in Ogun State. Can you relieve the experience?
It was a very good experience because I learnt to be subservient. Coming from a background in the private sector, where I was the leader and gave instructions, I was in a situation where the governor was my leader and I had to take instructions. It was a really humbling experience. It was also a good preparation for my time now in the National Assembly. I know the process for the executive to seek approval for its budget in the House of Assembly. Now, people come to us to approve their budgets. It was a learning curve for me.
Coming from the private sector, what are the change in processes that you had to undergo to fit into the mould of a politician here in Nigeria?
I was spiritually prepared. Many people believe that corruption is in most places. As a medical doctor, I know that a mother cannot just abruptly stop breastfeeding her child. She has to wean the baby for some time. That is the same way we should treat corruption; there has to be a strategic withdrawal from that kind of mentality that has become a normal situation in the country. Now, we have to do a lot of education and advocacy to prepare them for the change that is imminent.
Have you had any outrageous experiences since you became a senator in terms of expectations from people?
Yes, there were lots of expectations from the constituents which were things they were used to but that are not normal. A senator or House of Reps member is not supposed to be in charge of the welfare of the people if things are working fine. The social welfare of the people should be the responsibility of the executive. They are the ones that have the budget and opportunities to give jobs to people. All we are supposed to do is to pass laws and bills. But now, when they want to assess a legislator, they ask how many school fees, rents and other bills that you paid for people. The ministers were not voted for; they are not accountable to people but they are the ones that actually have the capacity to give people jobs and contracts. It would have been good if legislators are allowed to continue with their businesses and they wouldn’t be paid. That way, it is only serious people that would come to the National Assembly. As a senator, if you don’t close down all the businesses that fetch you money, the Code of Conduct Bureau would come after you.
Do you foresee yourself going to back to medicine sometime in the future?
That is my retirement. I would still consult; that can never leave me. I know I am good at counseling people and taking care of the welfare of the people. I would do a lot of that in my old age.
How would you describe your relationship with your father?
It’s the best you can ever think of. I am the only medical doctor child he has and we have many things in common. We have always been together. While growing up, I tried to copy everything he did. I studied medicine because of him. He is a moralist and he doesn’t joke with his integrity. I learnt a lot of good things from him.
You got married at a very young age. Why was that?
I got married very early at the age of 22 because I saw what I wanted and I didn’t want to lose it. I met my wife when I was 21.
What attracted you to her?
I saw everything I needed in her. I had a playful life. When I was in school, I had many girlfriends. I wanted someone that could take me for who I was and change me to a better person. I did not like that kind of life and I wanted someone that could change me to a monogamist. She comes from a polygamous family; she understands how men behave. She has the experience to manage the kind of man with that tendency. She used to counsel me to settle down with just one girl. I used to have over 10 girlfriends and she knew that she was one of them. She thought I could not marry her because she was a Muslim.
When I told my grandmother I wanted to marry her, she was a bit concerned that she was a Muslim. But I told her that my wife grew up in London and she wasn’t really a practising Muslim at that point.
Why do you think young men of these days cannot make the decision to get married at such an early age?
I would say they don’t understand that if they don’t get married, they wouldn’t be focused. They want to wait until they are focused before getting married. They don’t know that they need something to make them focused. The earlier you get a good partner-in-progress and have a good foundation, the better for you.
Your father is a polygamist. Why did you decide to be a monogamist?
It is because I have seen the difference. I have seen the advantages and disadvantages of both. The bottom line is that monogamy gives you more peace. Besides, polygamy is out of fashion now.
What are your other interests?
My interests are spiritual. I want to become a pastor but they said God would always call you before you do it. I am waiting for the call. I have a passion for the propagation of the Christian life. I believe if we can all live as Christians, it would be a very good world. The teachings are very good for a moral life.
How do you relax?
I enjoy travelling. I like being on the plane; the longer the flight, the better for me. On the flight, I can do a lot of thinking and reading.
How do you like to dress?
I try to respect my tradition and my position as a prince. Whenever I go to Saudi Arabia, I never see their princes putting on suits. They honour their tradition and dress accordingly. If we don’t propagate our own tradition and culture, nobody would do it for us.
What mantra guides your daily living?
I want to make heaven and to do that, there are things one must do and not do. I try to live by that.
I knew my husband was a player –Mrs. Moji Tejuoso
What can you recall of your childhood?
I am from the Okoya family. My childhood was very pleasant. I was the first of seven children on my mother’s side. From a very young age, I was taught the importance of hard work. After university, all I had to do was work in the factory and I built myself up from being just a daughter to a director.
What were your childhood ambitions?
From a very young age, my father being an industrialist, made us understand that we should forget whatever ambitions we might have had, that we were coming to work in the family’s Eleganza business. However, I studied Business Administration in school.
How long did you work at the family business before you got married?
I started working for my father from the age of eight. We had the Eleganza department stores, the cards, clothes and shoes sections. While working there, I was paid on commission based on the number of items I sold. That was how I grew up. We started out as machinists and grew from there.
How did you meet your husband?
The first time I laid eyes on him was in the UK. I was a very young girl and my father didn’t allow us to mix with boys. I noticed him at a party in the UK and when I came to Nigeria for holiday, we met again.
Who made the first move?
I was very shy. He probably made the first move.
What were the qualities that attracted you to him?
He was a player and I knew he was one. He was very persistent and eventually, we got together. Before him, I wasn’t in the dating game. I wasn’t thinking of marriage as I was just beginning to live my life at the age of 20. When he came along, I wasn’t prepared for any of his moves. When he said he wanted to marry him, I told him to go and meet my dad if he was serious. He was actually very wise about it because he went with his father. From there, the ball started rolling.
How did you feel getting married at an age when your friends were still exploring the single life?
I didn’t want to be anyone’s statistics or added to anyone’s list of girlfriends. I was a very reserved and introverted person.
How did you grapple with challenges when you initially got married?
I was wise enough to know that I didn’t need too many people in my life. I needed to concentrate on my husband and my children. We would be celebrating our 31st marriage anniversary later this month and I can tell you that I still abide by the same principle. I have only very close-knit friends.
How was the experience when the kids started coming?
I loved being pregnant. I knew that once the baby was out, it would be everybody’s child. But while it was in, it was exclusively mine. I have four boys and a girl.
What are you engaged in?
When my husband moved to Abeokuta, I didn’t think I would like the town. But being an introvert, I ended up liking it. However, I’ve always loved to work. I went round the town to note the things that they did not have. I noticed that they did not have a proper hair salon and restaurant. I started something very close to the house. I thought it would be a hobby but with the training I got from my dad, I was able to expand it. The restaurant is first-class but the hair salon didn’t really do well because Abeokuta people weren’t used to paying so much to make their hair. So, I closed the salon and focused on the restaurant. It remains the only five-star restaurant you can find in Abeokuta.
What was your reaction when your husband told you he was going into politics?
Initially, I was scared. I had always thought of politics as a no-go area. When I saw that he was also passionate about serving people, I decided to support him. He is a well-travelled man and he is always eager to bring many good things back to the country.
Weren’t you worried that with politics, there would be a lot of women around him?
I am 31 years in marriage and I have learnt to close my eyes and ears to certain things. I see no evil, hear no evil.
Being a politician’s wife has thrust you to the limelight. How have you been coping with it?
I am not the typical politician’s wife. I respect my husband’s colleagues. However, I mind my business and I stay where I’m put. My husband drags me along with him sometimes though.
What would you attribute the success of your marriage to?
It is all about God. I just look to God. I don’t care about whatever is happening out there. If there are any issues in my life, I take them to God.
Has politics robbed him of some family time?
Yes; however, our children are grown. I would have felt it if I wasn’t into business. However, when we do meet, it’s quality time and we have many memories.
How do you spend time together?
We travel together as a family. Those times are precious to us.
How do you relax?
I stay at home all the time. If I’m not at home, then I would be at work. I really don’t like attending parties. I also like to watch movies.
How do you like to dress?
Simple; I am not a fashionista.